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by Bill Gibron

27 Jul 2010

Like the old joke goes - stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in the not too distant future, science will perfect the artificial biological replacement. Organs, limbs…even memories can be uploaded, refashioned, and in many cases, reinterpreted for the client’s needs. Of course, none of this comes cheap. Massive corporate conglomerates itching to make a buck off the bad luck of its suffering consumers will set up full service clinics, including mandatory installment plan financing - a mortgage for your medical needs, so to speak - in order to prolong your miserable life. If you pay in full, the new part is yours. Failure to make your monthly payment, however, brings the Repo Men to your door. Armed with surgical tools and some amount of meatball skill, they take back what is no longer rightfully yours, ending your existence while maintaining the social order - that is, until the repossessor inadvertently becomes the repossessed.

If the proposed storyline rings a bell, that’s because we have had at least two competing versions of this future shock idea in the last three years. The first - and for many, the best - remains Darren Lynn Bousman’s labor of love Repo: The Genetic Opera. Starting life as a stage play, then a short film, this surreal song and dance experience - yes, it is indeed a musical - uses the medical menace described above to discuss familial dysfunction, social disenfranchisement, surgical obsessions, and slasher horror film conventions. Relegated to a contractually mandated ‘minor’ theatrical release, the man who made Saw a more than viable franchise found his baby abandoned, only to be picked up by an originality-starved viewing public. Now a certified cult hit, home video has turned the title into one of the more recognizably successful cinematic experiments.

by Bill Gibron

19 Jul 2010

Sometimes, one man can make a different. Sometimes, if rarely, you can fight city hall - or in this case, the entire Federal Government. For Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon policy analyst and member of the influential Rand Corporation think tank, the war in Vietnam was a necessity…at least, at first. As he poured over briefing papers and military projections, he saw the conflict as a clash between self-determination, the domino theory, and a long standing unrest in the area. From his time in the Marines to his work with Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, he believed in the strength of the US position. But after a fact finding tour of the troubled nation and a thorough reading of the 7000 page report commissioned on the war, Ellsberg had a change of heart. Radicalized, he knew he had to do something. That “something” would soon change the course of modern American history.

Thus began the cynicism and suspect nature of the political process that is rampant in today’s hyper-partisan environment. Ellsberg’s eventual leaking of the so-called “Pentagon Papers” so pissed off the Nixon White House that he became the target of the administration’s infamous “dirty tricks”. Eventually, a break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office would be tied to Watergate, the President’s closest advisors, and the Commander in Chief himself. For anyone who grew up in the turbulent and troubled years between 1967 and 1975, Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon would come to define the generation. While his noble intentions helped to shine a much needed light on the misdeeds of a nation, Ellsberg more or less lived up to his nickname - The Most Dangerous Man in America. As we see in the amazing documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, the legacy he left behind is more troubling than the actions he took in defense of his beliefs.

by Bill Gibron

13 Jul 2010

We call them filters - filmmakers who take their entire life experience, both entertainment and otherwise, and channel it in a way that is both creatively novel and artistically new. For those unfamiliar with the numerous references and homages being tossed at the screen, these individuals seem unique and inventive. For anyone in touch with their particular muse, however, the reinvented callbacks and insular asides are nothing short of genius (or a joke). Quentin Tarantino is such a motion picture sieve. So are Brian DePalma and John Waters. Perhaps the most outrageous and talked about examples of the cinematic sifter were brothers George and Michael Kuchar. Combining their love of old world Hollywood with the growing underground scene, they forged a oeuvre so original that, even today, their “anything goes” approach rivals anything attempted by their peers.

As infamous in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s as Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol, the twins are today regarded as the godfathers of the trash punk aesthetic, a campy combination of genre jumping designs and outsider imagination that cherry-picks apart various filmic archetypes to deliver a masterful reinvention of already established elements. In layman terms, their films are the very definition of a fever dream - pitched performances, megalomaniacal melodrama, and brilliant procedural shortcuts necessitated by budget, narrative, and scope. They are perhaps best known for their insane sci-fi riff Sins of the Fleshapoids, a witty emasculation of every Flash Gordon serial and big screen soap opera ever attempted. But with hundreds of movies in their individual and collaborative canon, the men remain perennial name checks for a myriad of savants synced up to their iconic idiosyncrasies.

by Bill Gibron

9 Jul 2010

Back in the earliest days of television, the notion got around that, somehow, the boob tube could be used as a learning tool. Always ready to embrace what’s vaguely vogue, colleges and universities lined up to use their government approved UHF channels to explore languages and science, literature and music. Lessons were meticulously planned and classes were even taught over the airwaves, a way of providing correspondence coursework without having to get the postal service (or your personal dignity) involved. Eventually, the powers that be felt inclined to mandate an educational angle to all adolescent and under programming, a federal decision to wean the wee ones off the glass teat by trading product placement entertainment for π and E=MC2. The result was some of the worst TV ever: boring protracted epistles less concerned about engaging a viewer than they were explaining the molecular structure of cobalt.

For many, the daily doses of triganomic calculations and moles to grams Venn verbalizing left an indelible mark, series like 3-2-1 Contact and Big Blue Marble vying for (and undoing) the minor’s miniscule attention span. On the other end were corrupt curriculum experiences like French Today and The Universe and You, 30 to 60 minutes of mind-numbing dullness delivered with all the energy of a suicide note. One would imagine that such a soul sucking example of wasted opportunities and cloying pretension would be ripe for lampoon, but outside the occasional skit on SCTV, educational programming rarely got the razz - that is, until 2002. That’s when British comedians Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz took on the archetypal UK example of the at-home learning curve and came up with Look Around You. Last seen on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the first season of this brilliant series is now out on DVD and well worth seeking out.

by Bill Gibron

2 Jul 2010

In most mysteries, the question of “how” is just as important as the “who.” We’ve all heard the jokes about the game Clue, where Colonel Mustard did “X” with “Y” in the Conservatory (or wherever), and most whodunit denouements only pay lip service to the killer. Instead, they spend an elaborate amount of time painting a portrait of the various events and interventions that lead to the crime in the first place. The “who” is just the icing on a criminal cake loaded with conjecture, coincidence, innuendo, and inconsistencies. Toss in a little dumb luck and the occasional element of entrapment, and the “how” instantly becomes the case. Everything within it ends up leading to identification, never the other way around.

In his book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the late author (and controversial journalist) Stieg Larsson explored the mechanics of “how” focusing on a disgraced investigative reporter, an angry young computer hacker, a sordid Swedish family legacy, and a 40 year old missing persons case. Offsetting each facet to focus on smaller points, as well as linking everything together in ways that seem surreal at first, the bestselling novel became the foundation for The Millennium Trilogy (named after the magazine that ‘hero’ Mikael Blomkvist publishes and writes for). Published posthumously, it showed Larsson as a regular rival to such well known mystery mavens as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and more recently, Thomas Harris.

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